As a subject or as an object, design is also a matter for the cinema! Belgium is Design proves it by presenting 'The Object Becomes.' in Milan, during Design Week and the Design Film Festival. A work by French video artist and designer Alexandre Humbert, the film questions the viewer about the role and future of the object in our societies through the stories of nine Belgian designers. This very topical statement will appeal to any entrepreneur, creator and maker.
The tone is set from the start. In an open-air landfill site, a lifetime of consumer goods is dumped in just a few seconds before our eyes. Computer equipment, furniture, an old map of the world identical to the one we all had on our desk as children, outdoor toys, small electrical equipment. Everything is destined to disappear. Incinerated? Recycled? Buried? We will never know. But that is not the purpose of this documentary, or rather of this cinematographic object as presented by its director, the designer Alexandre Humbert.
The film, presented as an immaterial work at Milan Design Week, speaks primarily of and to creators, entrepreneurs, 'makers' as the media like to call them. With an almost biblical dimension (powerful music, close-ups of the making of mud bricks, hands forcefully manipulating the elements), 'The object becomes.' raises questions that are becoming more and more glaring every day about the use of objects, their purpose in performing useful or non-useful services to society, what happens to them once they are 'outdated' (after years or just a few seconds), the possibility, whether or not foreseen by their creator, of modifying or even evolving the use of the object.
"I trained in design in the context of an ecological crisis," Alexandre Humbert told us after the screening. "I wanted to place the practice of design in an environment, an ecosystem that allows the designer to produce better, to put forward quality, and even to offer the possibility that their object can become something other than its initial intended use."
Without judgment, the film team and the designers represented (we hear them speak, but we never see their faces, only their work in progress) push our senses to the limit to ask the big questions that plague us, those of an era in which design has become so speculative that users are at a distance and no longer understand the object as such. It is a cinematic work in the pure sense of the word. So there will be no (and this is not the point) proposed answers. But isn't that what art is all about?
About the Film
'The object becomes.' was born from the meeting between Giovanna Massoni, curator, and Alexandre Humbert, designer and director. This film, this cinematic object, tells a story of Belgian design through a reflection on the role of the object and the designer. Shot between February and April 2021 across Belgium, the film takes us through the attitudes, words and gestures of nine protagonists of circular design, reuse, resource regeneration, and new organisation and production models.
"During my studies as a designer, what interested me was the narrative capacity of objects, thinking about the function of an object," explains Alexandre Humbert. I don't make chairs, but ways of sitting. Actually, I'm creating scenarios."
One story, nine practices: the stories blend together to create a unity of space and time, building a single voice shared by all. The object, assumed here as a starting point, has a variable, vulnerable identity and becomes a pretext for determining the places in which the narrative is integrated.
About the collaboration
Giovanna Massoni, the film's curator, was born in Milan, but has lived in Brussels for the past 30 years. Since 2005, in collaboration with Damien Bihr of Naos design, she has brought Belgian designers to the Milanese design scene and contributed to making them known, with the label 'Les Belges' (just before Belgium is Design), in this famous but very demanding international city/platform. The first joint communication tool for Belgians was created under her leadership. Since then, she has regularly collaborated on projects to promote Belgian design.
Wallonia Export & Investment Agency/ WBDM : Giovanna, could you tell us what your role was as curator for 'the object becomes.' ?
Giovanna Massoni : My role was to choose the collaborators, define the roles of the team (as for an exhibition); in short, I am a bit like the conductor of the team and the guarantor of the idea, of the thought of the discourse, with the director; here, the object is no longer a standard consumer good, but it must accompany us and suggest behaviours, as the object is never static. It is part of the designer's project, it comes out of industry, out of the laboratory. It will have a life of its own, with its 'client'. This is the opposite of what Andy Warhol did. We want to reduce the iconic aspect of the object (the iPhone is the best example).
Wallonia Export & Investment Agency/ WBDM : How did the film initiative come about ?
GM : The project started to become real after a discussion with my colleagues from Wallonie-Bruxelles Design Mode (WBDM). Together, we noticed that every year, we involve a lot of designers in shows/fairs, that they were being over-used to make prototypes (most of the time at their own expense), that they had tight agendas... Then often... nothing. Based on this reflection, I wanted to make a film rather than an "object" in the material sense. I had already met Alexandre, the film's future director, during Lille Metropole World Design Capital in 2020. I liked the sensitivity that emerged from his work; he knows how to speak through images that move us and challenge us. Aesthetic research is very important in reaching people's minds. I identified 100% with what he was doing and so it seemed natural to approach him for this collaboration.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and had a big influence on the project. With the travel restrictions linked to the repeated lockdowns, we wanted to create a contrast with the logistics and costs of travelling with the usual works for exhibitions. It was an interesting time, because exhibitions were all cancelled or postponed one after the other and materiality became an issue.
Author : Jonathan Avau
Offical screenings :
Milan Design Week, September 6-7, 2021
Milan Design Film Festival, October 23, 2021
Architecture and Design Film Festival (USA and Canada): Vancouver 10-13 November, 2021 (in person and online in British Columbia);
BOZAR, Brussels January 11 2022
About Belgium is Design :
Belgium is Design is a project that aims to promote Belgian talent on an international level. For the past 10 years, the three Belgian regional institutions Wallonie-Bruxelles Design Mode (WBDM), Flanders DC and MAD Brussels, have accompanied and supported designers and companies active in design at various prestigious international events, such as Milan Design Week, the Maison & Objet Show in Paris and New York Textiles Month.